Spotlight Feature of the Month: A Mighty Mini Guide Horse
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The Little Guide Horse that Could. Story by Terry Temple. Photos by Cookie Serletic
People with disabilities of all kinds find relief and a higher quality of life through their guide animals. Of course we usually associate dogs as guides, but there’s been a movement underway since 1999 to use horses, particularly minis, as the companions and chaperones of challenged individuals. The advantages of a guide horse are many, particularly for people who are allergic or afraid of dogs, who have a special affection for horses, and/or have a desire for a guide animal with a much longer lifespan than the canine counterpart. The last motivation is how Cheryl Spencer came to know and love Confetti, a 27” miniature who has taken the Spencers, Jacksonville, Florida and everywhere she goes by storm. As a teenager, Cheryl lived through the cruel nightmare of slowly losing her sight. A series of events and operations caused total blindness by age 18 and turned her “world upside down”, as she says. At first, Cheryl wanted nothing to do with the service of a guide dog, and much less fathom getting a horse for the job.
“I was a typical junior in high school, who had to stop and go through hell. I wound up back two years later as a junior in a high school, but this time it was in a school for the blind,” she says. But Cheryl, gentle readers, is a fierce spirit. “By my early 20s, I was living on my own, relying on my cane and pretty much defiantly independent. But finally, it got to the point to ‘Why not accept help? Why not make life easier?’”
Cheryl’s first guide was Tammy, a German Shepherd who came to her through the good works of Leader Dogs for the Blind. Cheryl and Tammy became as close as two partners can be and Cheryl was able to survive and thrive in an independent life style. When Tammy passed of old age at 14 1/2, Cheryl experienced that utter grief, which eventually was eased by time and Delta, her new companion dog from Southeastern Guide Dogs. (Most companion animal organizations are non-profits and rely on the kindness of donors and volunteers. Each any every one should be applauded for their efforts.)
A decade or so passed and Delta reached the end of her career as a useful companion and eventually her years. By this time, Cheryl knew she couldn’t exist as well as she was without a new guide, but the thought of taking on another dog was daunting.
“I said to (my husband) Chris, I just can’t do this again. You get so attached to dogs and they just don’t live long enough. The pain is too great when they go and at my age, I’d need to develop this special relationship with several more guide dogs.”
One day, Cheryl’s sister Karen sent them an article in People Magazine about one of the first miniature guide horses, which discussed their amazing longevity. (Minis typically live healthily into their 30-40s and even 50s. The oldest living miniature horse on record was Angel, a 52 year old mare.) Cheryl’s grandparents always had horses and her fondness and memories were in the right place to seriously consider a mini-horse guide.
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